Roger Johnson hasn't moved much. He's lived in the same Evansville farm house, the house where he was born, for all of his 80 years.
“Everybody who comes by tells me it’s such a nice place, so I thought, why move?” he said.
His family has had the farm for more than 150 years. This year, he and his wife Ramona have been recognized as the only Douglas County recipients of the sesquicentennial farm award by The Minnesota Farm Bureau.
In all, 47 recipients across Minnesota received the award for 2019. A commemorative certificate was awarded to qualifying families and an outdoor sign will be given to signify the recognition. The certificate was signed by Gov. Tim Walz, Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen and Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation President Kevin Paap.
Ramona said they were acknowledged for having their farm for 100 years in 1976 and so she knew there was another acknowledgment coming.
“It was something we were just sort of waiting for,” she said. “It’s been on my mind for some years.”
Roger said being acknowledged was not a life-changing event.
“It’s nice to know the farm’s been in the family for that long,” he said.
Rachael Peterson, administrative assistant for the Minnesota Farm Bureau, said it’s tough for modern farmers to continue because of the decline in agriculture.
“A lot of farms really appreciate being recognized just for being around for that long – 150 years is a big accomplishment,” she said.
The Johnson family farm started in 1869 when Roger’s great-grandfather and his family came to the U.S. from Sweden and Finland. The family back then planted and grew food for survival. The land, which is heavily wooded, provided areas where the family could fish and hunt for food as well.
When Roger was younger, he planted wheat, oats, barley and flax with his father. Now retired and unable to farm due to a disability, he rents out the farm for others to use. Corn and soybeans are also grown on the property by renters.
However, Roger still takes part in mowing the lawn, baling hay and planting alfalfa. The couple also heat their house using firewood, which they chop from their own property.
Living on a farm is a lot of work and they stay plenty busy, Ramona said. However, she enjoys it because she gets to be her own boss.
Once they receive the 150-year sign, Ramona will hang it on her bulletin board underneath the sign they received for 100 years of farming.
“It’s a topic of discussion for people who visit,” she said.
As for future plans for the farm, the Johnsons are planning on continuing to rent out the farm.
“It’s over 500 acres, it can’t just lay idle,” Roger said. He believes that his children or nine grandchildren will occupy the farm. While his offspring are not farmers, they enjoy coming to the farm to hunt ducks.
Two other Douglas County farms are also being honored this year.
The Farm Bureau also will recognize the Hamann Farm from Alexandria, for being in operation for more than 100 years. The farm was founded in 1910.
The Ledermann family of Brandon was named Douglas County’s “2019 Farm Family of the Year” by the University of Minnesota.
John Ledermann’s grandfather purchased the farm in 1928. His father, Jerome, joined the operation in 1956, took over in 1962 and retired in 2010.
The family raises 1,110 acres of corn, soybeans, seed soybeans and wheat using no-till and strip-till. They also use cover crops. The farm has received certification from the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Program at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
John, who joined the farm in 1987, is the owner/operator; his wife Rotchana grew up on a farm in rural Thailand. They have two children, Justin and Joy. Jerome provides help at harvest and serves as a mentor to help keep the operation running. John’s uncle, Adrian, also lends a hand, as does his brother-in-law, Mark Ramler.
John served for 19 years as director and secretary of Pro-Ag Farmers’ Cooperative and is past president of the Douglas County Pork Producers. He’s also an advisory member of the Water Quality Legacy Fund.
The families were to be officially recognized in a ceremony last week at the annual Farmfest near Redwood Falls, and again in Alexandria on Saturday, Aug. 17 at 9 a.m. in the Erickson Pavilion Building at the Douglas County Fairgrounds prior to the 4-H auction..
“These farm families are a major driver of Minnesota's economy and the vitality of Minnesota's rural communities,” said Bev Durgan, dean of the University of Minnesota Extension. “The University of Minnesota is proud to recognize these farm families for their contributions to agriculture and their communities."